Proposed religious freedom bill defended by Virginia GOP House and Senate members
GOP House and Senate members gathered at the Capitol today to support several proposed bills which aim to protect religious freedoms in the Commonwealth.
Leading the handful of bills is Del. Todd Gilbert’s (R-15) Government Nondiscrimination Act (GNDA) which aims to prevent “the Commonwealth and local governments from discriminating against an individual or entities which affirm marriage is between a man and a woman, or that sexual relationships should take place in such a marriage, or that a persons biological sex is unchangeable,” according to Caleb Dalton, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
GNDA would prohibit the government from denying grants, contracts, or other opportunities to organizations with such beliefs. ADF helped craft the wording of the bill.
“GNDA does not create a licenses to discriminate,” Dalton said. “What it does is simply protect individuals from being discriminated against by the Commonwealth or local government bureaucrats who are being forced to violate their sincerely held religious or moral beliefs around marriage and sexuality.”
Victoria Cobb, President of the Richmond-based conservative group The Family Foundation, compared it to a law currently in the Virginia Code which allows state funded adoption agencies to deny adoptions to same-sex couples if the relationship violates their “conscious.”
“Now that same-sex unions have been forced on our country will there be tolerance for those whose faith teachers marriages is between one man and one woman?” she asked.
Gilbert has his own history with non-discrimination laws at the General Assembly. In 2013 he was the chair of the committee which killed a bill which would have protected LGBT state employees.
When asked today if there were any examples of discrimination agianst religious people or groups in Virginia which would require this bill he failed to provide an example.
“Look around the country and there are many examples of government acting in such a way that their trying to force a belief system on people of faith or otherwise punish them for their faith,” Gilbert said. “We don’t have such an infrastructure here in Virginia, thankfully cause of the work of that committee [killing LGBTQ protections for state employees], trying to establish hate same type of human rights commissions that are now trying to punish them…. running them out of business, running them out of the public square…. we’re being proactive here.”
Religious freedom bills have popped up around the country for the last few years and are often considered discriminatory against LGBTQ’s by advocates like Claire Guthrie Gastanaga from the Virginia ACLU.
“[Gilbert's] bill is not a non discrimination bill, it’s a pro discrimination bill,” she said. Gastanaga said she believes, if it were to pass, GNDA would establish a state religion in the Commonwealth.
“It’s discrimination in favor of people who have two belief systems… It says if you don’t believe in same-sex marriage or people are transgender then you have special protections,” she said. “In my mind, that’s an establishment of religious belief in in the state statute.”
Proposed religious freedom bills in states like Indiana and Arizona lead to negative public feedback as well as promised boycotts by businesses and national sports teams alike.
Governor McAuliffe has promised to veto Gilbert’s bill, saying in a statement “we need to be working to make Virginia more open and welcoming to everyone, not less.”
Top Image: Del. Gilbert defends GNDA, Victoria Cobb of the Family Foundation at left
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